by Geraldine Gatehouse | August 26, 2013
Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, Canada, is a city that welcomes groups from all over the world. Given the quality of its hotels, conference center, restaurants, and brand-new renovated airport (YEG) it is not surprising that conferences such as the 2014 PMAC Conference, the Botanical Society of America 2015 Conference, and the 2018 IRWA Annual Conference are being held in this vibrant city of festivals. It's also a city that is more than eager to give back to its local community. Here's a look at how the city came up with its own comprehensive CSR program.
When Theresa Kloster, business development manager for Edmonton Tourism contacted me to talk CSR I was of course very interested in what she had to say. I asked Kloster what had prompted her to come up with the idea.

"Years ago in my previous world, I went to a leadership conference in Toronto and one of the agenda items was a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project, but at that time they were not popular or called CSR," said Kloster. "My job was to work in the back of the local thrift store to help sort all of the clothes donations. It was my first ever opportunity to give back like that, and it changed me. I felt a deep sense of team work, accomplishment, and just an overall good feeling that I was able to help less unfortunate people." Continuing, she said: "Moving to a destination marketing organization (DMO) and attending conferences all over the world, the "give back" option has been increasing, especially in the U.S. Locally, I have done multiple projects - River Valley Clean Up, Habitat for Humanity, etc. - as Edmonton is a very community-driven city." Then, she added, "If we can do these things locally, then think of how we can help with the meetings and conventions that come here from around the world to give back to local Edmontonians in need. That's how I decided to pitch the idea to develop a CSR program for Edmonton."

Supporting Community
Edmonton was looking for a way to support its local community, as well as offer additional services to companies bringing their business to the city. It sounded like a great "give back, get back" to me. I've written previously about New Orleans and what a great job they did of actively promoting giving back to incoming group clients and now, here was an opportunity to help another destination actively promote CSR.

Instead of asking, "Would you like to give back in some way?" the question has now become "What you would like to do to give back?" With that in mind, Kloster had the idea of providing a "menu" of nonprofits that would understand the needs and expectations of corporate clients, for the benefit of both. Knowing that my passion was CSR, combined with my background in planning, Kloster had asked for my help in moving this project forward. (Disclaimer: I am not receiving compensation for this project.)

After discussing the aims and goals of the program, the Edmonton team researched all of the nonprofits in the local area for our review. Using criteria such as location, community served, funding sources and size, we came up with a short list of 20. We then devised a survey that gave us some brief background into the organizations and helped us further evaluate which were the best candidates for inclusion in this exciting new project.

Edmonton's Nonprofits
Our first group of surveys gave us the following organizations, each covering a wide spectrum of services. YESS serves teenagers who are essentially homeless. Its model is changing - instead of helping a larger number of young clients with a little assistance, they are now providing more concentrated help to fewer teenagers. There are a number of projects that could benefit from group participation. The Edmonton Valley Zoo is a leader in breeding and raising red pandas, and has a strong educational program. There are opportunities to help with plantings, and making indispensable toys for the animals in their care. The takes place in mid-July but there are many opportunities throughout the year to work with the street performers and have them entertain and team-build with groups. The Edmonton Food Bank is a lifeline to those Edmontonians who find themselves in need, and offer great opportunities for groups to work together to help others. The Carbon Farmer is a social enterprise company that works with a nonprofit company to help achieve its goals of tree planting to offset carbon emissions. In addition to physical work helping in the field, the Carbon Farmer offers a virtual forest where trees can be given to each member of a group so they can track its progress and post comments.

We are just in the early stages of this exciting program, with the next big step being the naming of the project. If all proceeds as planned, Kloster is looking for a soft opening in the Fall with a grand kick-off in the spring of 2014. I will be posting updates as we move along.

If you are interested in taking advantage of this new program offered by Edmonton, please contact me and I will be happy to pass along your enquiry to Edmonton Tourism. 

Geraldine Gatehouse is an independent incentive and event planner, freelance writer, speaker and instructor, with a passionate belief in the value and potential global impact of CSR. She is based in Southern California and is the 2013/2014 Director of Strategic Sponsorship for the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Southern California Chapter. She also serves as the Site Classic 2013 committee member responsible for CSR, VP Education for Site Southern California 2013, and a proud member of the IMEX America team. She can be reached at [email protected]; or via her website and at LinkedIn. Her Twitter addresses are @ggbrit and @IMEXGeraldine.